Charlie and I had a great time this morning, out and about meeting new family members and kindred spirits. Shortly after midday, Her Highness let me know, as only she is able, that she was ready to tie a knot in it, so I dropped her off at the Casa. As rain is moving in over the next few days, I decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and loaded the Salsa bicycle on the back of the Subie and headed for the River Trail to pound out some miles.
The Arkansas River Trail is a jewel of a trail that crosses the river four times; at the Clinton library, the Broadway bridge, the Big Dam Bridge and the western most Two Rivers Bridge. The basic loop is approximately twenty miles, but the difficulty level can be ratcheted up by adding miles to the west and east, as well as steep ascents out of the river valley. I’m usually good for a quick twenty before I start getting antsy about things I should be doing at home, i.e. the dog’s(or mom’s) bidding, so it works out great for a quick workout.
Like the motorcycle, it’s also a great opportunity to clear the cobwebs with a little passive aggressive meditation. There’s something hypnotic about a pair of spinning wheels that allow you to simultaneously get outside of and inside of your own head, especially if you don’t pollute the moment with headphones or any other synthetic stimuli.
But it always pays to stop and talk to people.
As the trail traverses through the downtown areas of both Little Rock and North Little Rock, it’s only natural to encounter homeless people. I’ve gotten to know many of them over the years, and they’re just like everyone else; some good, some not so good, but never have I felt in any danger. It seems that a little respect goes a long way.
One of my favorites is an older gentleman that I check on whenever I see him, but he never seems to need anything. As it is his choice to sleep under a certain bridge, I once offered him the pick of the camping gear from my motorcycle trips; he refused, preferring his blankets and tarp. It seems that having nicer things would make him more of a target for theft, so I let it go at that.
Last week, the temps in Little Rock dropped down into the lower teens, and I was approached by a humanitarian group to go out on one of their vans to venture into the various dispersed homeless camps and take any that would go to warming centers around the city. We picked up scores, until the shelters were full, and all the while I was wondering about my old buddy under the bridge.
By the time we were finished on the van, it was after 9 PM. Mom and I were heading for the Casa when I decided to make a pass under the bridge to see what needed to be seen. What were we going to do if we did find him under there in those frigid temps? Who knows, we would have to cross that bridge when we came to it, but we would have done something.
I spotted the place where he usually camps a good ways back from the road. My flashlight illuminated a pile of unmoving blankets on the ground. As A: I wasn’t sure it was him, and B: I know from my own camping out west that it is the very epitome of rudeness to walk up on someone’s camp after they’ve turned in for the night, I decided to leave well enough alone and head home to a pack of yapping dogs.
So, on today’s ride, I was happy to see him in his usual daytime spot, sitting on his stack of cardboard. Sure enough, that had been him under that pile of blankets that night, but he said that he had been plenty warm without a care in the world. As I’ve been doing more than my fair share of fretting about this new business venture we’re wading off into, I couldn’t help but marvel at this man’s level of peace. He even made the statement “I’m spoiled rotten”. Whoa, now; 67 years old, living under a bridge, and he’s “spoiled rotten”? He said he always saw his needs provided for, that he had learned not to depend on anyone else, but most importantly, not even to depend solely on himself. He was a man, he said, and as a man, he was infinitely fallible, but God always took care of his needs. He was happy with what he had, and didn’t really care what anyone else thought. That right there is faith, and not just faith but total freedom in the absence of fear.
And I realized he was right. I love to ride motorcycles, but I’m just as happy on a 20 year old Honda than I would be on the latest $30k dreamcycle. My house has been battered and beaten by a steady procession of dogs and kids over the years, but it is what it is; I like it, it keeps the rain off of my head and the dogs underfoot. What we have does not define who we are.
As I peddled off towards the setting sun, my naturally skeptical nature kicked into overdrive:if he’s really homeless, how does the old guy keep so clean? How does he keep that mustache so lined out? With such wisdom in his heart, why is he homeless in the first place?
Then it occurred to me that I don’t have to have all of the answers right now, or maybe even ever, as some questions aren’t meant to be answered. Sometimes you just have to wonder without worrying, and keep on pedaling towards the sunset.
See you on the trail; dad out.